DEAR CAROLYN: I have always been the smart one. The sister was an average student. This sounds conceited, I know, and I’m not writing off my sibling. She has many talents that I simply don’t possess, like the ability to make people feel comfortable.
My problem is my sister despises me for my brains. The attention paid to my successes made her feel horrible.
After graduation, she became a hairstylist and insists she loves her job. I went on to college. I am 19 and about to begin my junior year. Every time I mention school in any way, my sister bashes the school and reminds everyone she is out in the world earning money, not just studying “useless abstract things.”
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I try to avoid these “trigger” topics, but academics are my life. I want to pursue a career in research and teaching. I hate that my abilities have poisoned our relationship, but I think this is her problem, not mine. How do I make the insults stop?
DEAR L.: How can I make the simplistic assumptions stop?
Maybe you were born many points brighter than your sister, and maybe that alone is what cut you out to be an academic to her mocker of all things abstract.
Maybe, instead, you and she are a lot like most other people, whose adult selves are a result of countless influences large and small, natural and nurtured, chosen and coincidental, under noses and out of view.
Maybe you’re both equally smart. Maybe she’s the “smart one,” but bloomed late and was never trained or encouraged to apply herself academically.
If there’s a grain of truth to any of this, then wouldn’t it be your parents who ultimately poisoned your sibling relationship, and not your giant brain? Not to make them the villains; they could have had the best intentions to give each of you encouragement for what they perceived to be your strengths, and were wrong.
If instead there’s no truth to my alternate theory, then I still have this: You’ve distilled to one simplistic narrative some of the most complicated things humanity has to offer, including family systems, self-determination and the nature of intelligence.
I suspect if you opened your mind to alternate theories on your comparative excellence, then you’d be less assured of it. I also suspect your sister would read this attitude change in you, and lower her dukes just a bit.
DEAR CAROLYN: A friend has been serially dating for over seven years now, jumping from one failed relationship to the next. In most instances she has been on the wrong side of the breakup.
How do you tell someone they need to find themselves before finding their next partner … without having them feel even more inadequate than their breakup has left them feeling?
— Inspector Introspecter
DEAR INSPECTOR INTROSPECTER: You wait till she asks you. The one respectful bypass, if used sparingly, is, “Would you like my opinion?” But you need to zip it if she says no.
Even better is to learn and care about what she thinks. Seven years say she’s thought about this, and maybe she’s resilient and knows what she wants.